I'm a big fan of Seth Godin. He's the author of several books about “marketing, the spread of ideas and managing both customers and employees with respect”. They are bestsellers. His blog is one of my favourites and I highly recommend it.
In a recent blog post he listed two of the biggest errors public speakers make which lead to fear:
1. You believe that you are being actively judged
2. You believe that the subject of the talk is you
1. YOU BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE BEING ACTIVELY JUDGED
This is a natural trap for any public speaker. The idea that the audience is actively judging them.
However, they will judge what you have to say...
You are not being judged, the value of what you are bringing to the audience is being judged. The topic of the talk isn't you, the topic of the talk is the audience, and specifically, how they can use your experience and knowledge to achieve their objectives.
When a professional singer sings a song of heartbreak, his heart is not breaking in that moment. His performance is for you, not for him. (The infinite self-reference loop here is that the professional singer finds what he needs when you find what you need.)
Any public speaker needs to understand that the audience is only interested in themselves. They don't want you to fail - quite the opposite. They are hoping they will learn something from you. If not, they are hoping to be at least be entertained.
Otherwise, they’ve wasted their time.
Stop thinking about your presentation from own perspective and start thinking from the audience's perspective.
2. YOU BELIEVE THAT THE SUBJECT OF THE TALK IS YOU
The second notion is takes time to understand. The best speakers understand that they are merely vessels for the presentation's content.
When you stand up to give a speech, there's a temptation to believe that the audience is actually interested in you.
This just isn't true. (Or if it is, it doesn't benefit you to think that it is).
If you dive into your (irrelevant to the listener) personal hurdles, if you try to justify what you've done, if you find yourself aswirl in a whirlpool of the resistance, all you're providing is a little schadenfreude as a form of entertainment.
This is a tough mental shift for many people. After all, you are the star of the show right? You are the one up on the stage. All the eyes are (hopefully) on you.
It involves a shift in focus, from self to audience, from inward to outward, from self-consciousness to group consciousness. It’s not easy to make that jump in awareness, but if you can, you will be liberated to become a joyful public speaker.
Both of these ideas come from the stories that we tell ourselves. The challenge is for any public speaker is to replace those stories with new ones.
Public speaking is just another form of communication. And the point of any communication is to make a connection. A connection between sender and recipient. The recipient has to get it – the content – for the communication to be successful. The sooner speakers redefine their roles as mentors and guides helping audiences on a journey the more joyful speeches there will be.
A said in the words of Seth himself: